SPRINGFIELD – Pam Roth packed her bags and moved to Texas last year.
That in itself isn’t unusual.
Illinois, after all, ranked second in the nation for people leaving for other states in 2013 according to a United Van Lines migration study. And Texas ranked seventh in the nation for people moving in, according to the same study.
But what makes Roth’s case unusual is that she was a sitting Illinois State representative when she left.
“Like many Illinoisans, I left for work reasons,” she told Illinois News Network this week. “My husband was offered an opportunity to transfer to Texas and get a bump up in pay – and we took it. I’m amazed by how prosperous it is down here. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and buildings going up. This is very much what happens when you live in a business friendly state with low taxes.”
Texas does not have an income tax, while Illinois has a 5 percent tax rate.
“It was like getting a 5 percent raise right off the bat,” she said. “Property taxes are a little bit lower here in Fort Bend County (Texas) than they were back in Morris (Illinois). And sales taxes are about the same – like you’re shopping in Joliet.”
The Roth household represents a small part of an exodus of people and income moving from the Land of Lincoln to the Lone Star state.
Between 1994 and 2011, Illinois lost more than $2.4 billion in household income to Texas, said Travis H. Brown, a St. Louis researcher who has studied Internal Revenue Service data and wrote the book, “How Money Walks.”
Brown said that equates to about 40,000 households.
“Texas is one of the top destinations for Illinoisans,” Brown said. “The primary reason they are moving there is clear: jobs. The economy in Texas is one of the fastest growing in the country. Last year alone it generated 252,000 new jobs. Despite the massive influx of people into Texas, the economy is absorbing them and wages are going up.”
Roth, who served as a Republican in the Illinois House from 2011 to 2013, said she believes Texas’ job growth is being fueled by the state’s economic and political climate.
“One other nice thing about Texas is the legislature,” she said. “It’s truly a citizens’ legislature. They meet every two years and get paid, I think, $7,500 a year. By having a legislature that is not paid a living salary and that doesn’t meet but every other year, you get a smaller government and less government intrusion. The state reps here are extremely approachable and accessible and not wrapped up in the politics.”
Illinois pays its lawmakers a base salary of $67,836 a year and an additional $10,327 to those chairing a committee or serving as a minority party spokesman. The Illinois Legislature meets from January until June most years.
Although taxes are lower, Roth contends government services are on par or even better than Illinois.
“I went in to register my two sons for school the other day and asked how much I owed; they just looked at me like I was crazy. In Texas, you don’t have to pay anything to register your kids for school. It seems like in Illinois I was paying well over a $100 per child after paying for textbook rental and sports and activity fees. Both of my sons are in magnet schools, something that just wasn’t available in the rural school district they attended back in Illinois.”
Roth said she sees plenty of Illinois license plates in her community.
“This is a real concern for people here in Texas. We have many people moving here from high-tax, ‘blue’ states like Illinois and California,” she said. “The concern is that they will bring their state’s political thinking with them and change Texas from being a ‘red’ low-tax state. That’s a real concern.”
Roth added Illinois’ problems are well known throughout the Lone Star State as more Illinoisans make the move.
“I’m a firm believer that the majority of people want to work. They want to be valued … If you can’t do that because there are no jobs around and you are forced to leave your hometown then that’s what you do. I think people in Illinois are at that point.
“I’ve seen the stats: 50 percent of Illinoisans want to leave the state. I could give you 10 phone numbers of friends from Illinois and if you called them and asked them if they had an opportunity to leave, would you leave Illinois? I guarantee you they would say, ‘Yes.’ Or they would if it wasn’t for their family. The sentiment is strong in Illinois – people want to leave because the jobs just aren’t there.”
Brown said this reflects a long-term problem in Illinois.
“Wealth that is created in Chicago often doesn’t stay,” he said. “A lot of the jobs moving from Illinois to Texas are corporate moves. The best example of that is Bloomington, Illinois. ‘Like a Good Neighbor’ State Farm is in Dallas, Texas. State Farm’s official response is that the company is still headquartered in Bloomington, but there is a 183-acre campus, a $1.5 billion project underway right now 11 miles northeast of Dallas. They are choosing to grow elsewhere. They are moving their corporate footprint out of the Land of Lincoln and into the Lone Star State.”
Illinois’ fiscal woes and legacy of political corruption are well known to Roth’s Texas neighbors and she finds that frustrating.
When I see people down here and they say, “Where are you from?’ And when I tell them, they laugh. … Then they will ask, ‘Which governor is going to prison this time?’ But there is no reason Illinois should be the laughingstock. I was so proud to be a part of the legislature and to work bipartisanly. I miss it. Illinois should be doing well with a financial center like Chicago, a highly skilled workforce and a central location. There is no reason it should be the laughingstock.”